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Figures belie rural poverty

STANDARD indicators of poverty do not apply to country areas which may be substantially more deprived than they appear, says the Local Government Association.

It is mounting a three-phase campaign to highlight the difficulties faced by rural schools, many of which are threatened with closure.

Figures for car ownership and unemployment are misleading. According to the LGA, a higher proportion of people in rural areas may have cars but these are likely to be old and inefficient.

Unemployment may be lower than in some inner-city areas but the work is often seasonal and the rates of pay are often low. Average weekly earnings for full-time manual men in North Yorkshire are pound;301 (92 per cent of the national average) compared with pound;347 in nearby York (106 per cent).

The Government and local authorities believe rural schools have a important role. Last year the then education minister Stephen Byers said village school closures spelt the loss of "a vital focus".

But small rural schools are expensive, with higher than normal transport costs and no economies of scale.

The association proposes to show that rural education is necessary and worthwhile, despite the cost. Solutions to maintaining village schools are likely to involve new technology. Councils believe innovations such as the internet and video conferencing have the potential to provide a more cost-efficient support service.

Action zones, 12 Analysis, 21

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